Religions in UAE—The recent normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel has drawn considerable attention. Israeli Jews have flourished in the United Arab Emirates thanks to diplomatic relations and friendly visits from heads of state.
Abu Dhabi began work this year on its first synagogue as part of a broader state-funded initiative to create mosques, churches, and temples for the three Abrahamic faiths in a single compound in the capital.
Although the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has not received as much attention for its role in reviving Christian life in the Persian Gulf, it has had a considerable impact nonetheless.
Christian faith is alive and well in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Churches for foreign Christians of all denominations can be found throughout the United Arab Emirates, including the Abrahamic Family House complex in Abu Dhabi. Every Sunday, people from all over the world come together to worship in the same place at the same time. There is nothing like this in Saudi Arabia or Iran. An Egyptian Coptic Christian once told me that he felt more secure practicing his faith in the United Arab Emirates than in Cairo.
I recently spoke with the UAE Minister of Culture and Youth, Noura Al Kaabi, about her country’s attempts to promote principles such as tolerance, peace, and harmony domestically and internationally since her country’s founding.
According to her, the UAE declared 2019 the Year of Tolerance, which included the historic meeting between Pope Francis and the grand imam of Al-Azhar to unveil the Document on Human Fraternity, an endeavor to enhance interfaith understanding and tolerance.
While the Islamic State, often known as ISIS, espouses a brutal philosophy and a fatalistic outlook, the UAE actively promotes a more tolerant view. One aspect of such activity is assisting in restoring Christian life in Iraq.
Religions in UAE: Supporting Christianity
International attention was riveted by ISIS’s ruthless drive to destroy Iraq’s physical and historic Christian environment in 2014. Beyond the headline-grabbing beheadings and sex slavery, ISIS also devastated religious and cultural landmarks belonging to Muslim and non-Muslim people alike. Historic cultural and religious landmarks have been lost since ISIS’ defeat, making any successful reconstruction attempt difficult.
To confront ISIS and promote tolerance, the UAE is funding the restoration of two historic Mosul churches in 2019, together with the landmark Al-Nouri Mosque, according to Al Kaabi. Due to the support of the UAE, UNESCO was able to rebuild the ISIS-devastated Al Tahera and Al Sa’aa churches.
For centuries, Mosul’s rich and complex civilizational character was symbolized by its three most prominent historical landmarks: the Al-Nouri Mosque, the Al Tahera Church, and the Al Sa’aa Church. “As a result, rebuilding these cultural assets is critical as a representation of the power that comes from social harmony and diversity.”
For millennia, Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and a meeting place for civilizations from around the world, was occupied by ISIS before being liberated in 2017. For millennia, Christians, Muslims, and other members of Iraq’s religious community coexisted peacefully.
As soon as the city was freed, the UAE teamed up with UNESCO to create the “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” project, promoting peace, restoring interfaith harmony, and promoting social cohesiveness. The preservation of religious landmarks is an integral part of this endeavor.
Restoring and rehabilitating a culture that has thrived for millennia because of its openness, tolerance, and moderation is the goal, according to Al Kaabi. It is hoped that once the locations have been rebuilt, they will serve as places of prayer and contemplation.
When Pope Francis visited Iraq in 2021, he performed a Mass in front of the Al-Tahera Church’s charred remnants and prayed for the victims of war, a sign of progress. This visit by Pope Francis to the Vatican is a “message of hope, healing, and trust in our shared humanity,” UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay said.
In addition, Al Kaabi is pleased with how the UAE-funded UNESCO project brings together people from different backgrounds. Most importantly, the young professionals and artisans from the three project sites will be able to demonstrate the power of brotherhood and tolerance via their work with their Muslim and Christian colleagues.”
The United Arab Emirates is reviving Mosul’s Christian community while also fostering interfaith understanding by preserving Mosul’s cultural legacy. There has been much press about the UAE improving ties with Israel. Still, the country has discreetly allowed Christians on the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq to experience a faith renaissance. When it comes to the UAE’s rebuilding efforts, Al Kaabi is crystal clear about the message he wants them to convey.
According to the group’s mission statement, extremist ideas can cause havoc, but countering them is possible. When it comes to creating a more harmonious world, “culture has a key role to play in this.”